Research Interests

Excavating Islamic/Sufi archaeology in Turkmenistan (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Excavating in Sudan (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

As a newly appointed Associate Professor and an editor of SHARIAsource at Harvard Law School, Emily is currently working on a manuscript and a number of articles on Islamic law grounded in Islamic legal anthropology. Her other current research projects and publications touch upon the following fields: Iranian film; Sufism; Yemen & Ethiopia connections; Late Egyptian literature; gender performance; archaeology (Turkmenistan, Sudan, & Egypt); Mongolian shamanism; disability studies; post-exoticism.

As the Whittlesey Chair of History and Archaeology at the American University of Beirut, Emily conducted archaeological field-work in Sudan and Turkmenistan. Previously, as the Chief Epigrapher of the Brown University-Cairo University Epigraphic Survey at the Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, she directed epigraphic work for seven years at the most famous ancient site in the world. This summer, she returned to Mongolia to conduct field-research on religion.

Not content to contain her teaching to the rigid confines of a university classroom, she has also taught students outside of “official” educational spaces in the U.S. and Middle East — such as Syrian refugees, young cancer patients in Beirut, at-risk Providence youth, and developmentally disabled adults in Rhode Island.

Doing epigraphy on recently returned objects to the Egyptian Museum (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

Exploring Aljun Castle with the World Archaeological Congress in Jordan

LECTURES & PANELS (SELECTED–to be updated soon):

  • “Decoding Ancient Narratives: Translating Egyptian Literature,” Sichuan University-Pittsburgh Institute, China, 2020.
  • “Excavating Egyptian Emotions: Artifacts of Feeling Embedded in Textscapes,” Visualiser les émotions dans l’Égypte ancienne (Visualizing the Emotions of Ancient Egypt) in conjunction with the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology (IFAO), University of Liege (Belgium), 2019.
  • “Transnational Solidarities at the Pan-African FestivalofAlgiers 1969,” [Keynote] The Black Arts Movement in the United States and Algeria Conference, Abdelhamid Ibn Badis University (Algeria), 2019.
  • “Memories of the Pan African Festival of Algiers 1969,” The Black Arts Movement in the United States and Algeria Conference, Abdelhamid Ibn Badis University (Algeria), 2019.
  • “Geographies of the Caspian in the Life & Spiritual Turkmen Poetry of Magtymguly Pyragy,” The Caspian in the History of Early Modern and Modern Eurasia Conference, Yale Program in Iranian Studies, March 2018.
  • “Facing Mirrors: Transgender Performance, Embodiment, & Narrative in Iranian Film” (lecture, screening, & Q&A), Persian Circle at Yale, Yale University, February 2019.
  • “Excavating Spirituality on the Silk Road: Sufismin Post-Soviet Central Asia,” Iranian Studies Colloquium, Yale University, January 2019.
  • “Islamic Law in Central Asia since the fall of the Soviet Union,” Kamel Forum, Yale Law School, November 2018.
  • “Translating Transsexuality in Iran: Gender Transitions in Islamic Law, Theatre, and Film,” Yale Macmillan Center (Translation Initiative), November, 2018.
  • “Memories of Slavery in Zanzibar Rendered in Literature, Testimonials, and Film,” Fourth Annual Conference of the Iranian Studies Initiative: Slavery and Sexual Labor in the Middle East and North Africa, University of California Santa Barbara, October 2018.
  • “Islam and Disability in the Arab World: Representations of Disabled Bodies in Islamic Law, Television, and Film,” Emerging DisabilityIssues: Varieties of DisabilityActivism and Disability Studies: Euro-Mediterranean Conference on Disability Studies and Disability Activism organized by the Department of Disability Studies, University of Malta, 2018.
  • “Excavating the Medieval Islamic Bazaar of Merv,” Commonwealth Club of California, 2018.
  • “Langston Hughes in Uzbekistan: The Poet’s Visits to Synagogues, Mosques, and Madrasas in Bukhara,” Commonwealth Club of California, 2018.
  • “Post-Soviet Islam, Identity, and Politics in Central Asia,” Commonwealth Club of California, 2018.
  • “Excavating Nature & Spiritual Geographies in Contemporary Omani Poetry,” Appropriations, Representations, Productions: Engagements with “Nature” in the MENA Region from the 19th Century Till Today, Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, January 2018.
  • “Shia Jurisprudencein Iran: Adjudicating Gender, Reproduction, and Cinema in Islamic Law,” Harvard University in Iran, 2017.
  • “Surveying Sufi Verses and Shrines: Mysticism from Rumi to Ayatollah Khoemeini and Beyond,” Harvard University in Iran, 2017.
  • “Excavating Islam and Gender in Contemporary Omani Poetry” in the workshop Gender and Identity in the Gulf: Cultural Constructions and Representations, Gulf Research Meeting at Cambridge University, August 2017.
  • “Shamanism and Neuroscience,” American Center for Mongolian Studies Conference on Transdisciplinary Research in Mongolia: Bridging the Cultural-Natural Science Divide, American Center for Mongolian Studies (Ulaanbaatar), 2017.

• “Geographies of Disability in the Writings of Rimbaud: Mapping Colonialism and Disablement in Yemen and Ethiopia,” Connecting the Dots in a Glocalized World, Sultan Qaboos University, 2016.
• “Scenes from the Screen: Masterpieces of Iranian Film” (Invited Guest Speaker in Iran), Commonwealth Club of California, 2016.
• “Surveying Stanzas and Shrines: Sufism and Poetry in Iran” (Invited Guest Speaker in Iran), Commonwealth Club of California, 2016.
• “Dig It: Archaeology & Cultural Heritage in Iran” (Invited Guest Speaker in Iran), Commonwealth Club of California, 2016.
• “Journey to the Marketplace: Tourism and Business in Iran” (Invited Guest Speaker in Iran), Commonwealth Club of California, 2016.
• “Advancing Disability Rights in Bhutan & Oman,” The Royal Palace of Bhutan/Center for Bhutan Studies, November 2015.
• “Preserving Endangered Languages & Heritage in Oman,” Sultan Qaboos University, Sultanate of Oman, 2015 (guest lecture).
• “Writing Refugees,” Sultan Qaboos University, Sultanate of Oman, 2015.
• “Trespassing Boundaries in Sound, Space, & Spirit,” 2015 World Conference of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM) in Kazakhstan, July 2015.
• “From Leprosy to the Willow Tree: Decoding Cinematic Disability & Spirituality,” Rethinking Disability on Screen Symposium, University of York, May 2015.
• “The Contendings of Horus & Seth,” American University of Beirut, April 2015.
• “Sufism & the State in Central Asia, Jamia Millia Islamia (India), February 2015.
• “X Marks the Spot: Mapping Malcolm’s Encounters with Sudan,” American University of Beirut, February 2015.
• “Memories of the Mongols at Merv: Surveying Archaeological & Textual Accounts,” National University of Mongolia, June 2014.
• “Subversives & Saints: Sufism and the State in Central Asia” (Anis Makdisi Lecture/Arts and Humanities Initiative), American University of Beirut, Spring 2014.
• “Mleeta: An Archaeology of Terror or Resistance?,” 19th Annual European Association of Archaeologists, Pilsen (Plzeň), Czech Republic, 2013.
• “Adjudicating Bodily Difference in Iranian Islamic Jurisprudence,” Sexual Sovereignty: Citizenship, Governmentality, Territory Conference, American University of Beirut, 2013.
• “Adjudicating Antiquity: The Taliban & Archaeology,” World Archaeology Congress (Jordan), January 2013.
• “Women and Medieval Islamic Shrine Visitation in Turkmenistan,” Harriman Institute, Columbia University, 2011.
• “Recent Fatwas from the Ulema Council of Afghanistan: the Role of Islamic Jurisprudence in Afghanistan in the Post-9/11 Era,” Harriman Institute, Columbia University, 2011.
• “Islam and Gender in the Czech and Slovak Republics,” Yale University, November 2010.
• “Journeys into the Heart of Islam: Sufi Travels and Tales,” Brown University, 2010.
• “Czech Mates: Collaborations between Iranian and Czech Communists During the Cold War,” the 15th Annual World Convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN), Columbia University, May 2010.
• “Tombstones for Tables: Posthumous Living in the Islamic City of the Dead,” The Oriental City Conference, Institute of Oriental Philology at Jagiellonian University, Krakow, Poland, May 2009.
• Discussant, “Production and Transmission of Islamic Knowledge in Azerbaijan: Between Traditional Authorities and New Actors” (Dr. Rufat N. Sattarov), The Changing Social Role of Islam in Post-Soviet Eurasia (Conference), Harvard University, March 20-21st, 2009.
• “Iran and Tajikistan: Perfect Together?” 14th Annual World Convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN), Columbia University, May 2009.
• “A Russian-Iranian Cinematic Encounter: The Birth of Iranian Film,” Empires and Revolutions: Iranian-Russian encounters since 1800 Conference, Iran Heritage Foundation and London Middle East Institute, SOAS (LMEI), School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Summer 2009.
• “Emotional Egyptians: Excavating, Cataloging and Defining Emotion,” Harvard University, March 2009.
• “Ancient Egyptian Emoticons: Excavating Fossils of Cognition in Art and Literature,” the Humanities Center of Harvard University, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 2008.
• “Ancient Egyptian Emoticons: Decoding Hieroglyphic Symbols for Emotion,” Sharif University, Tehran, Iran, May 2009.
• “Hieroglyphic Preservation and Archaeological Excavation: The Abu Bakr Cemetery at the Great Pyramids of Giza,” The Aga Khan Humanities Project, University of Central Asia, Tajikistan, July 2008.
• “Excavating Anger in Ancient Greek and Ancient Egyptian Art and Literature,” the International Congress of Egyptologists, Rhodes, Greece, May 2008.

Excavating at the Great Pyramids (Photo: Emily O’Dell)

RECENT & UPCOMING PUBLICATIONS (SELECTED):

• “Assembling Clones: Adjudicating Future Bodies in Shia Jurisprudence,” SHARIASource, Harvard Law School, February 2020.

• “Geographies of Islam and Disability in the Writings of Rimbaud: Mapping Religion, Colonialism, and Disablement in Yemen and Ethiopia” (Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies), 2019.

• “Performing Trans in Post-Revolutionary Iran: Gender Transitions in Islamic Law, Theatre, and Film,” Journal of Iranian Studies, 2019.

• “Subversives & Saints: Sufism and the State in Central Asia,” in Pauline Jones Luong, (ed.) Islam, Society and Politics in Central Asia, 2016.
“From Leprosy to The Willow Tree: Decoding Disability & Islamic Spirituality in Iranian Film,” Disability & Society, 2015.
• “X Marks the Spot: Mapping Malcolm’s Encounters with Sudan,” A Special Issue of the Journal of Africana Religions, January 2015.
• “Waging War on the Dead: Necropolitics and Sufi Shrine Destruction in Mali,” Archaeologies, December 2013.
• “Iranian-Russian Cinematic Encounters,” in Stephanie Cronin, (ed.) Iranian-Russian Encounters: Empires and Revolutions since 1800. London: Routledge, 2013.

Brown University team at Giza (Photo: Marianne Barcellona)